Medical marijuana cards in Pennsylvania leading to legal trouble for some drivers
HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) — Like nearly one million Pennsylvanians, Deneke Weber has a medical marijuana card.
And like an unknown minority of them, that card – confirming she can use cannabis legally – actually got her into a kind of legal trouble an illegal recreational user wouldn't face.
"You really got this DUI?" she recalls friends and family members asking in May 2021. "And I was like, 'Yes, it's real.'"
Even though, she says, she wasn't driving under the influence of anything. She had been in a car accident, and a state trooper arrived. She showed him the first ID she found – one that looks a lot like a driver's license but was actually her medical marijuana ID card. That was all the trooper needed to see to suspect she had been driving impaired.
That began a hellish year. She lost her license. Her small but growing business, Weber's Cleaning Services, which she had launched the previous year?
"It slowed down for that year of fighting this case because you don't want to go behind the wheel," Weber said. "You don't want to put yourself at risk when you're going through the steps of the justice system."
She suspects a guilty plea for a first-time offense could have resolved things more quickly, but she said she's a "fighter" who didn't want to plead guilty when she wasn't.
Enter Senate Bill 363, sponsored by state Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington County) and co-sponsored by senators from both parties.
"We absolutely have to fix this," Bartolotta said.
She tried with a similar bill last year, but it didn't make it through the legislative process before the session ended. Bartolotta was a key proponent in 2016 of medical marijuana when it first became legal and says the technicality that became a nightmare for people like Weber was an oversight that needs to be fixed.
People who aren't driving under the influence of anything "can lose their job. They can lose custody of their children," Bartolotta said. "It's a horrible thing to have on your record, especially when it is not justified in any way, shape or form."
Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which fights for tough impaired-driving penalties for people driving under the influence of marijuana and other drugs, agrees with the proposal.
"Possessing a medical marijuana card should not be the only reason someone is arrested for impaired driving," the organization told CBS News in a statement.
Bartolotta emphasized she's not advocating for looser laws for anyone who actually is driving impaired.
"If you are driving impaired, you will suffer the consequences as greatly as the law will provide because we don't want anyone driving impaired," she said. "No one should be doing that. I am extremely passionate about that."
Ditto for Weber.
"If you are feeling like you're impaired, ask a friend or family member," she said. "There's Uber, there are cabs. Do not put yourself at risk for something that is just not worth it."
Her other key pieces of advice: Don't be afraid to contact a lawyer before speaking with the police. She says in her haste to cooperate with the trooper – because she was confident she hadn't done anything wrong – she might have inadvertently complicated the process for herself.
And for now, at least, unless and until the proposed changes become law be sure to use your driver's license, not your medical marijuana card, for identification.